The needs of long-suffering Libyans must now come first

Competing factions should set aside their own agendas to reach a political solution

FILE PHOTO: Armed forces allied to internationally recognised government fight with armed group in Tripoli, Libya September 22, 2018. REUTERS/Hani Amara/File Photo
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Since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in a state of continual crisis. With some 400 different militia groups operating there, it is little wonder it is considered a failed state. Yet, despite the Nato-backed uprising that toppled Qaddafi, world powers have so far failed to agree how to steer Libya out of its current plight. The intervention in 2011 was not underpinned by a coherent strategy; instead, it led to a sharp escalation in tribal warfare and the rise of extremism, with ISIS and Al Qaeda both planting roots there. Rival administrations in Tripoli, in the west, and Tobruk, in the east, have failed to bring law and order to a nation that should be flush with oil wealth, but instead has an economy in freefall and large areas of territory without governance. Meanwhile, Libya's oilfields have been subject to repeat attacks from militia groups.

It is against this backdrop that the country's key political figures will be meeting in Palermo, Italy, this week in an attempt to kickstart the political process, pave the way for elections and begin to build a functioning government. That is a formidable task and one made even more complicated by the involvement of various competing foreign powers. The welfare of ordinary Libyans cannot be sacrificed any longer. A 2016 UN report estimates that out of a population of more than six million, nearly half have been directly affected by the armed conflict and related political instability. The UN has been trying, without success, to steer a course of dialogue to get Libya back on track for years. Yet elections, originally planned for December 10, have been postponed indefinitely and a common vision to bring the country together remains a distant hope. It is time for all of those involved to put the needs of ordinary people first, and take necessary steps towards uniting this shattered nation and starting a meaningful political process. Only then can Libya begin to heal its wounds.